QUITO (AFP) – At least 60 inmates died on Tuesday (Feb 23) and several were injured in riots at three jails in Ecuador, where rival gangs frequently clash in overcrowded prisons.
The national police said on Twitter the death toll stood at “more than 50” prisoners after unrest at facilities in the provinces of Guayas, Azuay and Cotopaxi.
Later figures released by officials put the toll at 67.
Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno, also on Twitter, attributed the riots to “criminal organisations” engaged in “simultaneous acts of violence in several prisons.”
The authorities, he said, “are acting to retake control.”
The police did not state whether order had been restored after violence broke out at jails in the port city of Guayaquil in the southwest, and at Cuenca and Latacunga in the Andes.
Thirty-eight of the deaths occurred at the maximum facility section of the Cuenca prison, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Police commander Patricio Carrillo reported unrest at several prisons in the South American nation, and said “the situation is critical.” Several were hurt in the violence, including two inmates at Guayaquil who sustained serious injuries.
Interior Minister Patricio Pazmino, meanwhile, tweeted that a centralised command post has been set up to respond to what he said was “concerted action by criminal organizations to generate violence in penitentiary centres.”
In December, riots in Ecuadorian jails sparked by gang rivalry, gangs, left 11 prisoners dead and seven injured.
A 90-day state of emergency in the country’s jails was ordered by Moreno last year to try and bring gang activity under control and reduce the violence.
There are some 38,000 prisoners in Ecuador – a country of 17 million people – with 1,500 guards to watch over them.
The government’s SNAI prisons management body has said a dearth of personnel “hinders immediate response” to prisoner revolts.
Inmate disputes left 51 dead in 2020, according to police.
In order to reduce prisoner numbers amid the coronavirus epidemic, the government commuted the sentences of people convicted of minor offences, reducing overcrowding from 42 per cent to 30 per cent.
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